TURNING AFL umpires into full-time professionals will not sharpen their games.
Umpires are intrinsic to the tone and development of an increasing professional and elite AFL game. Too often they are the fall-guy for an irrational football fan, screaming incompetence.
Neither is a reason to force AFL umpires to take up their discipline as their sole career for improved performance.
The debate crops up every pre-season. AFL umpires coach Hayden Kennedy has already quashed the notion this summer.
David Parkin emphatically raised the issue in Ballarat this week, reiterating his view umpires should retain an outside occupation. He did so to a room full of aspiring and long-time umpires, including a new crop of WestVic Academy of Sport athletes.
Parkin was completely spot-on.
Carlton’s Coach of the Century and the league’s first specialist umpires coach challenged all to find him an invasion game anywhere in the world that was as complicated as our homegrown battle. But fitness and lectures for those who officiate could fit around work – outside interest would keep alive their passion for the game.
This should apply across the game.
AFL clubs increasingly recognise the value in allowing players to seriously pursue outside study or jobs. But clubs should make a stronger, holistic stance. Consider a set day off or a 1pm start for footballers to study or take up an apprenticeship. Coaches need options, too. Parkin continued to lecture at Deakin University the whole time he was powering to premierships.
AFL has improved in athleticism, skill and tactics since players turned professional but the approach has moved too far the other way. Players have long days and changing schedules full of meetings, community demands and medical checks even before hitting the field. They can become trapped in a football bubble.
Players need balance. This is about planning for life after football and life outside football.
Balance should start with draft hopefuls, so driven on reaching the league before the gruelling gauntlet of getting a game and staying in the system. Time in the game is too often unexpectedly cut short and, without a sound alternate career path, they are back in the pack with a bunch of high school graduates, trying to start afresh.
Umpiring is a discipline always crying for more members at grassroots level, we need to keep offering a viable sporting pathway in which they need not put their profession on hold for an extended, somewhat uncertain, indefinite period. Umpires too, can get dropped back to state level or delisted.
Time outside the game, helps ensure umpires and players remain passionate about the game. Meaningful outside interests and challenges can offer perspective.
The challenge for any elite coach who only has players for a finite time each week, is ensuring the time maximises productivity. This demands sharp time management and focus.
This demands a drive and passion to excel in the game that can only be more successful for the game’s elite standards in the long term.
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